I have no idea how Rob Manfred lives his life. I know very little about the man, other than details related to his work as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. No clue if he’s an early bird or a night owl. Can’t tell you if he prefers The Office or Parks and Recreation. Who knows if he saw that dress as yellow and white or black and blue? I can tell you this about him, though. I’m fairly certain of this trait. Anything Rob Manfred does, he does it as quickly as possible. I refuse to believe otherwise. That much is evident by his resolute, undying mission to speed up the sport he governs. The latest baseball rule changes further prove this fact about Mr. Manfred. The man is obsessed.
Various levels of Minor League baseball will be experimenting with new regulations this season. These include a :15 pitch clock, bigger, less-slippery bases, a two-pick-off-attempt limit per hitter, a rule that pitchers have to disengage from the rubber to attempt a pick-off, robot home plate umps, and a requirement that all four infielders be in the infield dirt when the pitch is delivered.
The goal of these baseball rule changes is to (you guessed it) speed up games, along with producing more balls in play and base-stealing, all while reducing injuries.
I’d like to say a lot of these new rules are really fucking stupid and their end goals are diametrically opposed.
The Good Ones
I’m alright with bigger, less-slick bases. Guys roll ankles and blow out their knees on bases every season. They get really slippery at times, especially when it rains. The base is supposed to make you safe (in more ways than one). They shouldn’t be an injury threat.
I’m also okay with the :15 pitch clock. That’s more than enough for a guy to get the signs and start his delivery. Working fast is usually a benefit to the pitcher anyway, so I don’t imagine there will be much pushback on this rule.
Aaaaand that’s all the good ones.
I don’t like the robot umps. It eliminates pitch framing, which nullifies a hugely valuable skillset that catchers have made millions off. It’s sometimes the sole reason a player is in the Major Leagues. Robot umps wipe them out in the blink of an eye.
Robot umps also hurt the running game. There’s no need for a catcher to catch the ball properly behind the plate. All he has to do is call the game, block pitches, and control the runners. He can set up in an optimal throwing position every time if he wants to. Pop times will drop if catchers no longer have to frame and stick pitches on the border of the zone, meaning it will be harder to steal bases.
Oh, wait a minute, weren’t the other rules designed to help runners out? Funny how these rules don’t complement each other. The fact that you have to step off the rubber before picking off eliminates another hugely important skill guys have spent years perfecting; the lefty pick-off move. Just forget it if you have to step off. Plus, you can only do it twice per at bat. If the pitcher throws over twice and doesn’t get the runner, he can now take a lead halfway to the next base if he wants. How ridiculous is that gonna look? What are we doing here?
No More Shifting
Now we arrive at the infield rule, essentially banning the shift. I think Manfred is jumping the gun here. The obsession with launch angle and driving the ball only started a few years ago, something many people believe makes the game boring. Home runs, strike outs, and walks, all game long. I think if MLB gave it a few more years, though, hitters would have adjusted to the extreme shifts and learned to hit the ball the other way when they wanted to. These are freak athletes with absurd hand-eye coordination; I think they would have figured it out if the math dictated that beefing up your batting average and on-base percentage by 20-30 points per season just by slapping a ground ball every now and then is worth it (it is). That then makes fielders be more honest with their positioning. Problem solved.
Manfred wants results right this second, though. So we now have rules like this creeping their way towards Major League Baseball.
More Offense Equals…Quicker Games?
The over-arching theme of pretty much every decision Rob Manfred has made has been speeding up baseball games. In Manfred’s mind, every time a baseball game ends in 2:45 or less, an angel gets its wings. The :15 pitch clock and the two-pickoff rule seem to be in line with his mission. The rest of these rules, though? They do the exact opposite.
Most of these rules are designed to increase offense, both on the bases and at the plate. Explain to me how that makes the game quicker. How does that make sense? We want games to end sooner, so we help the hitters score more runs? Runs make the game longer! More runs do not equal quicker games. They never have and they never will.
I’m not sure how these baseball rule changes are gonna play out in the Minors this season, but I do know that they don’t really make sense together. This is baseball moving two steps forward and two steps back, and annoying a litany of fans in the process.
Minor League Baseball is gonna be a strange, strange place this season.